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Circus 1903: The Golden Age Of Circus Makes Its Debut In Chicago

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Step right up, the golden age of circus is back.

"When the circus came to town, small town, 1903 was the biggest day of the year. It was the Superbowl, the Olympics rolled all into one, factories and schools closed. Everybody ran down to the rail yard to watch the big spectacle," said David Williams, who plays Ringmaster Willy Whipsnade.

The show tells that story. It takes us back to when the circus was everything."

It features real circus acts from all over the world, performers from 15 countries. WBBM's Lisa Fielding reports.

"The first half of the show, you see us outside in the circus yard, hammering nails, getting ready to raise the tent, rehearsing. Then at the end of Act 1, we raise the tent and then Act 2, it's inside the tent and the grandeur of the circus."

And the elephants have returned.

"We have brought the animals back to the circus in a very innovative way," said Williams.

Thanks to puppeteers who created the largest ever performing African elephant and her baby.

Circus 1903 Elephant
Circus 1903 Elephant puppet (Credit: Mark Turner)

"Queenie and Peanut. These are operated by amazing puppeteers who come on stage inside these puppets and you immediately forget they are puppets."

Among the reasons Ringling Bros. cited for ending its 146-year run later this year is having to retire its elephants because of pressure from animal rights groups. The solution for "Circus 1903" was the creation of two life-size elephants by Significant Object, the London-based puppet workshop that made the puppets for the stage production of "War Horse."

"You combine that will the historically correct costumes, the cinematic score, the beautiful set, it's a big, wonderful, romantic snapshot of the circus of the year 1903, which was a big year for the circus, the golden age when circus' were touring all over the world."

Circus 1903 balance act (Credit: Mark Turner)

"Circus 1903" has a lineup with contortionists, a bicyclist, high-wire and trapeze acts, acrobats and jugglers.

"Many of these performers come from generations of circus families. We have incredible juggler from Paris. He has the fastest hands I've ever seen. We have a bicycle artist from Germany. Our contortionist from Ethiopia, she ties herself in pretzel knots. We have a beautiful aerialist, Elena from Russia, it's like a dance in the air. These are amazing performers."

Circus 1903: The Golden Age of Circus performs at the Oriental Theater through Sunday, March 26. For tickets log on to

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